Top 25 Under 25: #18 Zach Boychuk

Position: Left Wing/Center
Height: 5'10"
Weight: 185 lbs.
1st Round, 2008
Age: 23
Last Year's Ranking: 12

I know what you're thinking. "Why is Zach Boychuk even on this list? He was waived by three different teams last year and will never make the NHL. Is he even with the Hurricanes?" I understand it, though. Boychuk hasn't mixed with either of Carolina's coaching staffs ever since he was drafted and Kirk Muller has kept on an especially short leash. It's hard to see him having much of a career with the Hurricanes unless something dramatically changes within the next few months, seeing how he was placed on waivers after one game last year and ended up back in Charlotte after two other NHL clubs waived him. However, there are a few reasons why I'm putting him on the list. 

The Hurricanes prospect depth, or lack there of, being at the top of the list. Boychuk probably doesn't have much of a future here and I've suggested that the Hurricanes moving him would be the best decision for both parties, but until that happens, Boychuk remains part of the Hurricanes organization. The team elected to qualify this summer, so his rights are still with Carolina even if he chooses not to sign and he did just have an exceptional season in the AHL with 43 points in 49 games. He is also still only 23 years old and while most people expected him to be in the NHL by now, he is still young in his career.

Boychuk's career with the Hurricanes has been all about not living up to his expectations at the NHL level. He was touted as a gifted, creative offensive player with the potential to be a first liner somewhere down the line. So far, he has only been able to produce in the AHL while totalling only 20 points in 85 games in the NHL. Some of this isn't neccesarily his fault because, as we all know by now, Boychuk wasn't exactly utilized the right way in his first couple NHL seasons. Former Hurricanes head coach Paul Maurice would often stick him on the fourth line, not give him a lot of power play time and ultimately didn't put him in a spot where he could succeed. Other prospects have had to leap through these hoops & earn their ice time, but it seemed like Boychuk had to do more to get out of the dog house than others.

This didn't change much after Kirk Muller took over as the Canes bench boss either. Muller's been one to give ice time to young players who earn it and he actually gave Boychuk a shot in the top-six during his first couple of games. That all ended during the third game of his call-up when he was benched during the second period and immediately sent down after the game. Despite that, Boychuk was brought back on a one-year deal and started the season on Carolina's top line. He played a total of 10:18 before getting benched in the third period and was placed on waivers two weeks later.

Does Boychuk deserve more of a chance? Probably, but it's becoming pretty obvious that he isn't co-existing with the coaching staff here and is probably better off in a different system. The Hurricanes felt the same way and decided to waive him in February and was claimed by the Pittsburgh Penguins. Many thought he would thrive in Pittsburgh's system, as it was announced that he would be playing on a line with Evgeni Malkin in his first game, but he didn't last long there. Boychuk ended up back on waivers after only seven games and was then claimed by the Nashville Predators. Despite scoring his first goal of the season and having two points in five games with the Preds, Boychuk found himself back on the waiver wire and the Hurricanes decided to re-claim him to send him to Charlotte, which is where he finished the season.

The Hurricanes deciding to retain Boychuk's rights was a little surprising, because they didn't see him as a fit last year and it's hard to figure out what changed their minds unless they were really impressed with his AHL stats or his playoff numbers (5 points in 6 games). Either way, the team has offered him a contract and it's up to Boychuk if he wants to return to the organization. It's hard to see him being anything more than a top liner in Charlotte unless he does something to really impress Muller, though.

It's fair to say that Boychuk will probably never live up to his draft status, so now it's all a matter of figuring out whether he can have an NHL career and how good he can be. He is only 23 years old, so his window to make the league isn't close yet, it's just a lot smaller than it was a couple years ago. The problem is that Boychuk is considered a player who has to be "top six or nothing" because of his size and playing style, and he probably isn't going to get top-six minutes with the Hurricanes. So unless the Hurricanes want to roll out a skilled third line, it's hard to see Boychuk having much of a future in Raleigh.

When you consider that, the Hurricanes deciding to retain his rights is a little confusing but they must have some plans for him, whether that be in Charlotte or Raleigh. It's a little frustrating that Boychuk hasn't worked out in the NHL because he has shown some promise at times and his development wasn't exactly handled well by either coaching staff. Putting a skilled player on the fourth line isn't going to do much if they play only 5-9 minutes a game and neither is benching them after only 10 minutes of ice time. Although, Boychuk isn't completely innocent here either becuase it's hard to say that he made the most of his time in the NHL when you look at his career numbers.

Boychuk's got a few more years to figure things out, so we'll just have to wait and see how things go from there. To get an idea of what to expect, let's look at some players whose career went in a simlar path.

Career Statistics

Zach Boychuk
Season Age Team Lge GP G A Pts P/G
2005-06 16 Lethbridge Hurricanes WHL 64 18 33 51 0.797
2006-07 17 Lethbridge Hurricanes WHL 69 31 60 91 1.319
2007-08 18 Lethbridge Hurricanes WHL 61 33 39 72 1.180
2008-09 19 Lethbridge Hurricanes WHL 43 28 29 57 1.326
2008-09 19 Carolina Hurricanes NHL 2 0 0 0 0.000
2008-09 19 Albany River Rats AHL 2 0 1 1 0.500
2009-10 20 Carolina Hurricanes NHL 31 3 6 9 0.290
2009-10 20 Albany River Rats AHL 52 15 21 36 0.692
2010-11 21 Charlotte Checkers AHL 60 22 43 65 1.083
2010-11 21 Carolina Hurricanes NHL 23 4 3 7 0.304
2011-12 22 Charlotte Checkers AHL 64 21 23 44 0.688
2011-12 22 Carolina Hurricanes NHL 16 0 2 2 0.125
2012-13 23 Charlotte Checkers AHL 49 23 20 43 0.878
2012-13 23 Carolina Hurricanes NHL 1 0 0 0 0.000
2012-13 23 Pittsburgh Penguins NHL 7 0 0 0 0.000
2012-13 23 Nashville Predators NHL 5 1 1 2 0.400

Ignoring the three trips to the waiver wire, Boychuk's season was similar to the last few where he posted great numbers in the AHL but failed to make much of an impact in the NHL. He did have one of his best AHL seasons coupled with a great showing in the playoffs, though, which could have been enough for the Hurricanes to retain his rights. At least that's how things seem right now. Whether not this turns into anything or he stays in the NHL next year remains to be seen. 

Comparable Players

For Boychuk's comparables, I was looking for players with three or more years of AHL experience who posted similar scoring rates at both levels. You can see here that it doesn't project many promising things about his career. Most of the players similar to him either didn't stay in the NHL for too long and the ones who did weren't very effective offensive players. There is still hope that he can stick around, but his ceiling appears to be a lot lower than it once was. I did this with him a couple years ago and you'll notice some better players on that list compared to the one above.